A plan to study how to split North Carolina school systems into smaller districts is moving forward in the state legislature.
In a split voice vote, the House Education Committee backed House Bill 704 on Tuesday. The bill would create a joint legislative study committee to look into whether legislation should be introduced to allow for the breakup of previously merged school systems.
The committee would also consider how to divide school districts and whether a local referendum or petition would be needed before a district could be split.
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“What we’ve never really studied is: how big is too big?” said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican from Mecklenburg County and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “What’s the appropriate size?”
The bill now goes to the full House, which would need to approve the legislation by Thursday to meet a self-imposed deadline to have it considered the rest of this legislative session. If approved, the committee made up of state lawmakers would make a final report by May 1, 2018.
Many transplants to North Carolina are used to individual towns running their own small school systems. In contrast, most school systems in North Carolina are county-based.
Over the years, many school systems in the state merged to try to save money and to integrate schools. The state went from 167 school districts in the 1960s to 115 now.
The bill’s two other primary sponsors are Rep. John Bradford of Mecklenburg County and Rep. Chris Malone of Wake County. All three legislators represent counties where there’s been support from some suburban residents to break up their large school districts.
“Traditionally the idea has been to pull things together, bigger is better,” Brawley said. “But now we have two of the largest school systems in the country here in North Carolina. Mecklenburg, where I live, and Wake, in which we’re currently situated. The question is, have we reached a point where we have disincentives of scale?”